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High Blood Pressure Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Diet, and Medications

What Is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as the "silent killer" since it has no initial symptoms, but can lead to long-term disease and complications. Many individuals have high blood pressure, but do not know it.

  • Important complications of uncontrolled or poorly treated high blood pressure are due to chronic damage that occurs to different organs in the body and include heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, peripheral artery disease, and aneurysms (weakening of the walls of an artery, leading to a sac formation or ballooning of the artery wall). Aneurysms can be found in the brain, along the route of the aorta (the large artery that leaves the heart), and other arteries in the abdomen and extremities.
  • High blood pressure is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. While it ranks second to tobacco use as a preventable cause of death for any reason, high blood pressure is the number one cause of preventable heart- and stroke-related death.
  • Public awareness of these dangers has increased. High blood pressure has become the second most common reason for medical office visits in the United States.

What is blood pressure?

How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.

Picture of the blood pressure and circulatory system
Picture of the blood pressure and circulatory system

What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean? What Is Considered Dangerous?

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff and recorded as two numbers, for example, 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Blood pressure measurements are usually taken at the upper arm over the brachial artery.

  • The top, larger number is called the systolic pressure. This measures the pressure generated when the heart contracts (pumps). It reflects the pressure of the blood against arterial walls.
  • The bottom, smaller number is called the diastolic pressure. This reflects the pressure in the arteries while the heart is filling and resting between heartbeats.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology has recommended guidelines to define normal and high blood pressure (all values are in mm Hg).
  • Normal blood pressure: Systolic < 120 and diastolic < 80
  • Elevated blood pressure: Systolic 120-129 and diastolic < 80
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic 130-139 or diastolic 80-89
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic > 139 or diastolic > 89

Based on these new 2017 guidelines defining high blood pressure, as many as half of all Americans will have this disease (48% of men and 43% of women).

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is responsible for many cases of death and disability resulting from heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

According to research studies, the risk of dying of a heart attack is directly linked to high blood pressure, particularly systolic hypertension. The higher your blood pressure, the higher the risk. Maintaining lifelong control of hypertension decreases the future risk of complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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High Blood Pressure Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is a very common condition. About half of all Americans have the high blood pressure, moreover, many do no know it. Hypertension often is called the silent killer because few signs or symptoms occur. When symptoms do occur, they include severe headaches, chest pain, vision problems, and fatigue.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Hypertensive Heart Disease »

Uncontrolled and prolonged elevation of blood pressure (BP) can lead to a variety of changes in the myocardial structure, coronary vasculature, and conduction system of the heart.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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